WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Shock was the initial reaction.
As senior standout Spencer Long lay on the field having his knee examined, his brothers on the offensive line hovered close by, slow to head to the sideline for instructions.
Their coach sensed they didn't want to leave the field until Long did.
"When you have one of your buddies laying on the turf, it hurts you, you know," said junior left guard Jake Cotton. "He's such a great leader and we just love him so much."
But one of the cruel truths of the game is the required duty of moving on.
"It's hard, but you want to play for him, you want to give the snaps for him, you want to go and do the job for your leader," Cotton said.
Although Bo Pelini has not yet said anything specific about the status of Long going forward, offensive line coach John Garrison is now mulling over his options at right guard with the knowledge he might not have his best lineman available for the season's critical stretch run.
Junior Mike Moudy, who had been swapping reps with Cotton at left guard, took over for Long after the injury in the first quarter of Nebraska's 44-7 win over Purdue.
It was Moudy's first time playing right guard since the end of fall camp.
"I saw Spencer go down and I thought, 'All right, I'm the next one in line,'" Moudy said. "I didn't have time to warm up but I was ready from the start. … Once I got into the habit of moving with a left-handed stance, I got back into the groove."
Moudy said Long, who spent the second half in street clothes and on crutches, was very vocal on the sideline. When Moudy gave up a sack, just the third one allowed by Nebraska all year, Long was right there to give him encouragement and instruction on how to correct the error.
"He's one of our captains, one of (the) main voices on the line," Moudy said. "We took his injury as an initiative to play for him. When a guy of his stature goes down, you give him your respect. We came together as a unit and rallied around him."
If Long is out, Garrison is looking for a third guard to join Moudy and Cotton in the rotation at the two spots.
He doesn't know for sure yet who that is, but lead options include sophomores Givens Price and Ryne Reeves, who both were on the travel roster.
"Obviously, we brought Givens Price for a reason, and Ryne Reeves. So there's some guys that will be given some opportunities to do that," Garrison said. "It was close to putting them in there (Saturday), but just with the amount that was going on, because there was not a base look (from Purdue) until the fourth quarter, we didn't feel comfortable rotating a guy in."
Chongo Kondolo, a junior college transfer, is another guard who has been working with the 1s and 2s in practice. But the hope has been to redshirt him this year, which is why he didn't make the trip to Purdue.
Garrison is just glad to have an extra week now to work out some things before Nebraska travels to Minnesota to begin its six-game grind to the regular season's finish line.
"Going into this thing, I thought the bye week was a bad deal, having two bye weeks almost back to back, but this is a critical time that we have it," he said. "There's been guys in the rotation ready to go, but (we need) to really solidify it."
* STAT RISING: Nebraska's defense jumped 23 spots due to Saturday's game, now slotted at No. 75 in total defense after giving up just 216 yards.
The Huskers also moved up 18 spots in scoring defense. Nebraska is now 37th nationally in that category (22.3 points per game).
Had Nebraska not allowed touchdowns in the final minute each of the past two games, the Huskers would be ranked 26th.
That shutdown-spoiling touchdown by Purdue was especially tough for coaches and players to see.
Defensive coordinator John Papuchis said players were working hard for it in the fourth quarter.
"Guys were very prideful of keeping (the shutout)," he said. "It's not about me and being upset that they scored at the end. It's really for our guys. I think they wanted to have the shutout, and they wanted to have that sense of pride for having a shutout. And for all intent and purposes, they did. At the end of the day, it would have been great to have it. But it's bigger picture than that. Our guys played their tails off."
Papuchis said it's particularly encouraging when you consider how many key participants on that defense are underclassmen.
"When you look at it, we're not going to graduate very many guys in the front seven for a long time. So hopefully this is the makings of a pretty good group, not just now, but down the road."
QUOTES ON THE RUN
"We won. It was a team win. But I just have to think about it this way: If it was a better team or a team that actually played four quarters, and it was neck-to-neck, it could have cost us the game." — redshirt freshman quarterback Tommy Armstrong on his struggles against Purdue
"We knew going into the year that this was going to be a work in progress, but you don't know how fast the results are going to come. We've gotten a little bit better as we've gone. We've had some peaks, some valleys, but if we continue to stay on this track, we're going to be the defense we want to be." — defensive coordinator John Papuchis
— Brian Christopherson